Grand Divisions

Tennessee Equality Project seeks to advance and protect the civil rights of our State’s gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender persons and their families in each Grand Division.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Senator Campfield targets LGBT youth with potentially anti-GSA bill

Sen. Stacey Campfield of Knoxville appears obsessed with LGBT people in Tennessee. Early in the session, he filed the "Don't Say Gay in School" bill that would prohibit discussion or instruction in grades K-8 about homosexuality in the classroom. Now, the Senator and Rep. Matthew Hill of Jonesborough have introduced a bill that may discourage student participation in Gay Straight Alliances in Tennessee schools. The bill specifies that:

Each school shall notify the parents or legal guardians of all clubs and organizations available to students attending such school by prominently displaying the information in the school's student handbook, or other standard or policy guidebook that contains the policies and procedures of the school and is distributed annually.
Without directly saying so, this bill potentially targets lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning students looking for support, information and resources. The bill goes on to require that:
No school shall permit a student to become a member or participate in any activities of a club or organization if the parent or legal guardian of such student has tendered a written communication prohibiting such student from such membership or participation. In order to be valid, the written communication shall be signed and dated by the parent or legal guardian.
What does this mean? If a parent reviews published information about clubs and organizations from their child's school , it's up to the parent to express to the school in writing that they don't want their child to participate in certain clubs and organizations. The legislation does not require students to obtain a permission slip signed by the parent in order to participate in school clubs and organizations.

However, there is a risk that school administrators could interpret this law to mean that permission slips are a preferred avenue to adhere to this proposed law.

Imagine, if you will, a young gay student whose parents have expressed hostility toward LGBT people going to those same parents to ask them to sign a permission slip to join his school's Gay Straight Alliance. A permission slip system for school clubs could increase the isolation that many LGBT students experience.

Students who are LGBT or questioning may need a safe space in a school-sponsored Gay Straight Alliance to ask questions about human sexuality. It would be wrong to create unnecessary road blocks for students seeking information and resources. The proposed legislation could be strengthened with language explicitly stating that students are not required to obtain prior parental permission to participate in student clubs and organizations.
A permission slip system for school clubs and organizations could create an atmosphere of hostility in schools and in our community. With all the completed suicides among LGBT youth we heard about in 2010, we don't want this legislation to become life-threatening to the young people of Tennessee.

It's vital that each of us make a commitment to encourage our legislators to make schools safer for all students on March 1 during Advancing Equality Day on the Hill. Follow these easy steps to participate:

  1. Call your legislators' offices to schedule your appointment (Find contact information here). Your legislator may not know his or her schedule when you call, so keep calling for an appointment up until the week before March 1.
  2. When your appointment is made, enter your appointment details at Tennessee Equality Project's Legislator Appointment Tracker. Contact Michelle Bliss at with questions.

- Jonathan Cole

This post was edited after its original posting.

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